The king of satire, back with a new film about Soviet-era Russia after Stalins death, talks about being uncool, Veep and building a spaceship in London
Armando Iannucci arrives for our 3pm meeting with a small amount of his lunch still clinging to his shirt. We discuss retouching the mark for the Observers pictures but, admirably, he doesnt seem to care either way. It is tempting to describe the 53-year-old Iannucci as the most feared political satirist of our age. Certainly, his output in the past decade the BBC sitcom The Thick of It, the companion film In the Loop, and latterly Veep has been untouchable in skewering the vanity, incompetence and plain childishness of people in power. But, in person, nothing about Iannucci is remotely scary: he is self-effacing, smiley, quick to laugh. At the end of the day, hes just a guy with a tomato stain on his shirt.
Iannuccis latest target is Stalin and his cronies. His new film, The Death of Stalin, is set in 1953 and depicts with unexpected historical accuracy the undignified scrabble for dominance that followed the demise of the Soviet despot. It is silly, moving and revelatory, all at once, with deft, pitch-perfect turns from Simon Russell Beale as Beria and Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev. Iannucci, who never likes to have fewer than seven plates spinning at any moment, has also just published a book on classical music, Hear Me Out, about a lifetime of listening to Mahler and Britten in open defiance of the keepers of the cool.
Was it easier than you expected to make a comedy about Stalin and his inner circle that was also factually accurate? Yeah. When we were researching it, we found out things like Vasily, Stalins son, really did lose the ice-hockey team in a plane crash. And because the comedy is the comedy of hysteria, you want to be true to what happened and how people responded. So anything that was so-bizarre-and-yet-true was a candidate for going in. I thought about having This is a true story, but then I thought, no, just watch it for what it is, and it would be great if you subsequently found out that the bulk of it was true.
These men are vicious, but your film also gives them a human side. They have families they fear for; they play practical jokes. Did your feelings towards them change? Um, no. But I did think, what must they have done to have survived and ended up so close to Stalin, and what has it done to them? The fact, for example, that he would almost taunt them and mock them and play them off against each other With all these things its about posing the question, What would you have done in those circumstances?
Power corrupts? Yeah, it was almost like Animal Farm by the end, and yet they all lived near each other and popped in and out of each others houses. He might have had your brother shot and all that, but they had to sublimate that as just part of the process of moving forward. But, you know, you read that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were the biggest enemies and are now reconciled. Im not saying they are like Stalin, but in that febrile environment where you see each other every day, in order to survive, just psychologically, you must have to close off a bit of your emotion.
So there are lessons about todays political landscape? Trump gets all his closest associates in over the past three or four months, and has to say, By the way, youre fired because I need to survive now. So could you go away? And eventually hell be saying that to his daughter and his son-in-law: Youve now become an albatross, I cant be seen with you anymore. Or after the general election, Theresa May turns to her two very close advisers and says, Its you or me. And they all kind of understand that. Its like that thing in The Godfather: Its not personal, its strictly business.
Were you expecting a reaction? I was wondering what it would be. I was surprised to hear we sold it to a Russian distributor. Stalins been making a comeback. There have been busts of Lenin, Stalin and other key figures going up in Moscow for the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Its that sense of, dont be frightened of strong men. Thats the message in Moscow at the moment.
Theres a line in your book Hear Me Out where you describe film directing as an astonishing ego trip, and that you wouldnt recommend it to anyone who has the slightest psychotic tendencies. Is it a job you feel comfortable doing? Ha! It is, but you do spend all day ordering people around, and everyone will do what you say. My wife teases me when I finish a shoot that it takes about a week and a half before I stop going, Right, shall we have a cup of tea? You, get a cup of tea I can see how, especially if you do shoots that go on for months, you become like a medieval lord with all these serfs, just ordering them around and torturing them and asking them to tell jokes and fetch food.
As the creator and showrunner on HBOs Veep for the first four seasons was it a difficult decision to give it up in 2015? No. It might have been the British thing that we dont do that many episodes of TV shows in the UK. Plus, it was three months of the year going out to Baltimore, backwards and forwards, and it was an all-year-round thing of the writing, the shooting, the edit, the publicising and then the writing And I knew the show could carry on, but fundamentally Id taken it to where I wanted to take it.
The show will end next year with a final, seventh series. Do you know whats going to happen? No, no, no. They asked if I wanted to stay on, but I knew I was going to do Stalin and I just thought, I cant be on set and get a call saying, Can you look at this script? But its great, because I watch it as a viewer and you realise though I always knew this what an amazing cast it is and how funny they all are. And also, I genuinely dont know what they are going to say next, which is really great.
Music is a marvellous way to pass the time or simply just entertain you. In this article, which was shared from New Scientist, you will see how music improves your brain symmetry and the benefits of music. It doesn’t matter whether you just listen or actively play and practice music, the advantages are amazing.
How Do We Know Music Improves Your Brain?
I would argue that its impossible to find someone who isn’t moved by a particular song or piece of music. Like storytelling, making music is a universal human trait, shared across all cultures for many thousands of years. It has been found that music improves your brain, inducing powerful emotional responses. A new study in PLOS ONE confirms that music, if we make it our profession, actually rewires the circuitry of our brains.
Music, indubitably, is a very primal form of communication that activates specific centers of our brain: those most associated with reward, planning, motivation and emotion. It is known that learning how to play a musical instrument can alter the brain: a study from back in 2009 demonstrated that prolonged practice increased the size of the centers of the brain responsible for hearing and dexterity. Musicians are also known for being more proficient at identifying pitch, and they are better than most at picking out speech from considerably loud background noise. Somewhat remarkably, they even have an enhanced ability to detect emotional cues in conversations.
Previous research indicates that the tissue that connects the left and right hemispheres of our brains is larger in musicians. Could it be possible that music has the power, therefore, to improve the communication between the two hemispheres?
To see if musicians really did have an improved hemispheric connection over non-musicians, a new study spearheaded by researchers at the University of Jyvskyl in Finland used fMRI scanners to look at the brains of two groups of people: the members of the first were all professional, practising musicians with degrees in music; the second were people who had have never professionally played a musical instrument.
Once inside in the fMRI scanners, the subjects were subjected to three very different pieces of music: classical Stravinsky, Argentinian tango and progressive rock. The researchers were looking for flares in neurological activity in both hemispheres of the brain; as suspected, the patterns of activity in the musicians left and right hemispheres was far more symmetrical than that of non-musicians.
The group of musicians included keyboard players, cellists, violinists, bassoonists and trombone players. Intriguingly, the most symmetrical neurological display of the study was observed in the brains of the keyboard players. The researchers suggest that the kinematic symmetry the symmetry of a musicians physical movements as they play their instrument of choice is directly linked to the level of neurological symmetry they have. Keyboard players have a more mirrored use of both hands and fingers when playing, Iballa Burunat, the lead author of the study, told New Scientist; therefore, they are more likely to have synaptic symmetry than those playing stringed instruments.
As this study only tested the effect that listening to music, not actually playing it, had on the brain, these results suggest that practising musicians genuinely have a rewired brain, one that communicates more effectively than most even after they’ve put down their instruments.